Vernon's Takes Top Honors at Unusual Event — a Kosher Barbecue Competition


Vernon's owner Matt Stiffelman and his teammate, Hunter Rose, celebrate at the Dallas Kosher BBQ Championships. - COMPLIMENTS OF MATT STIFFELMAN
  • Compliments of Matt Stiffelman
  • Vernon's owner Matt Stiffelman and his teammate, Hunter Rose, celebrate at the Dallas Kosher BBQ Championships.

Matt Stiffelman, the pitmaster of Vernon's BBQ & Catering (6707 Vernon Avenue, University City; 314-726-1227), has participated in his fair share of barbecue competitions. However, his recent win was at a showdown that was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

Stiffelman's latest victory took place at the Kansas City Barbecue Society's Dallas Kosher BBQ Championships, a rare event where the entire competition was conducted in accordance to the guidelines of kosher law.

"Barbecue is so popular right now, but if you follow kosher guidelines, every barbecue place is off-limits because of all the pork," Stiffelman explains. "And besides the pork, chances are that the places cook cheese or milk with the meat. People who keep kosher want to eat barbecue and show off their skills, but they couldn't because of their religion. This is a way for the to do that."

Stiffelman, who competed with his friends Hunter Rose and Jared Lead under the name "Rubbed and Ready," was excited for the chance to challenge himself with the constraints that were unique to this competition. Instead of bringing his own meat and ingredients, as is typical of most barbecue showdowns, at the Dallas event, everything was provided for the competitors — even the cooking equipment.

"Everything had to adhere to strict kosher guidelines, including being blessed by a rabbi," Stiffelman explains. "We had to do all of our prep work at a synagogue, and then everything was brought to the competition site on a refrigerated truck. We weren't even allowed to start our own fires. A rabbi had to start the charcoal in our chimneys. We opted to keep ours burning, but for the people who didn't do that, they were constantly looking for a rabbi to start their coals."

Stiffelman adds that the guidelines did not just apply to the food itself, but to who and what was even allowed inside the competition tent. "Nobody was allowed inside the tent unless they were registered to the team," he says. "If you wanted to drink a beer, you had to do it outside the tent. We were up all night, and if you needed to have a Red Bull, you had to do that outside too."

The cooking equipment provided an additional layer of challenges for competitors. Though he is used to a much larger smoker, Stiffelman was issued a Weber Smokey Mountain Wood/Charcoal Burning vertical smoker and Weber kettle pit. The smaller equipment meant there was less room for error.

"Usually, when you are doing a competition you put on six briskets and present the best one out of that," Stiffelman says. "Here, there was room for just one brisket, so you didn't have that option."

For the competition, participants were given one brisket, one whole turkey, four beef ribs and four chicken quarters. Stiffelman and the "Rubbed and Ready team brought home top honors in both the turkey and celebrity-judged beef ribs categories. They placed third for brisket, fourth for beef ribs and overall kosher and sixth for chicken. Though he was not allowed to bring any of Vernon's rubs or sauces to the competition, he recreated them on site as close as he could using the provided ingredients.

Stiffelman is proud of the results.

"I was a little nervous walking into Texas and doing brisket. I thought I was going to meet my matches," he laughs. "I'm really pleased with our results. The kosher element was a challenge I've never competed with, so it was nice to have the opportunity to test my skills with a credible result."

However much challenge the kosher element added, Stiffelman emphasizes that this was, first and foremost, a barbecue competition. "People took it just as seriously as any other competition," he says. "There was no compromising of the rules. This was a professional barbecue competition."

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